Tech and “Welcome,” The Biggest Little City, My Favorite Law


Tech and “Welcome,” The Biggest Little City, My Favorite Law

Recently, PT’s Creative Director Astrid and I spent an hour and a half with Michelle Horton, the Director of Parking and Transportation Services at the University of Nevada, Reno. This woman knows her stuff. Her job, as she sees it, is to do her best to make the university welcoming.

I asked her what PARCS system she uses, and she smiled and said “none.” I have to admit that I was taken aback. After all, she is controlling 10,000 spaces on a campus of more than 20,000 students. Wouldn’t she want to use every possible tool available to help with that task?

She told us that she felt that barriers, ticket spitters, and the like remove the ‘welcome’ feeling at the university. She has a program where students actually design the tags and stickers for the permits. Her department runs a contest to select the new designs each year. Parking is enforced by officers who write tickets and interact with the students. She prefers to call them ambassadors.

She does use T2, PaybyPhone, and other behind-the-scenes software, but as far as dealing with students and staff, she prefers a personal approach. The discussion got me to thinking about how we look at technology in the parking industry.

It seems that gates, dispensers, LPR, AVI, most all apps, and online payment methods make it their business to remove people from process. Their goal is to reduce costs and improve revenue. In most cases, the cost they remove is people. And those people are what make our parking operations more welcoming.

In our municipal parking operations, do we make our customers feel welcome, or do the interactions we have with them become, by definition, accusatory? When we tell our enforcement staff to avoid all personal contact, and if required, mail citations to our customers, what does that say about our parking departments?

Moving down the street in locked cars, taking LPR pictures and then mailing citations to vehicle owners, who are often not the people who actually parked the car, makes us better enforcers, but does it make us better, more welcoming organizations?

At PIE, this May in Reno, we have an interactive session on how to tell our customers why it is necessary to charge for parking and how those charges make for a better community. The challenge is that we will need people on the ground to explain why we do what we do. Apps, tech, and gates remove the personal touch and the ‘welcome.’

Michelle Horton sees that parking’s first job is to welcome people to her university. “After all, we are the first to greet them and the last to say goodbye. Why not use every power we have to spread a positive message?” Why not, indeed.


We spent a few days in this beautiful city. It was an eye-opening experience. Reno, a city of a quarter of a million people, is crisp, clean, and modern. It has the fun and games of Las Vegas, without the desert, heat, crowds, and the hustle.

When you talk to folks who live there, you hear about the four seasons, the outdoor lifestyle, the mountains, and the friendly people. That certainly was our experience. We ate at fabulous restaurants, walked down streets with not a piece of paper in sight, stayed in a world-class hotel. This is small town America with a big city feel.

Reno is 30 minutes from Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful settings in the world. It is surrounded by mountains that offer vistas unparalleled. A short drive away is historic Virginia City, reminding us of the times when fortunes were taken from the ground. When you go to Reno, plan to stay a few days and see what this area has to offer.

Locals talk about being able to walk their downtown. Central Reno is 10 minutes from the airport, traffic is light during rush hour, major hotels are within a few minutes’ drive of each other. Our hotel, the Grand Sierra Resort, is less than seven minutes from the airport, and 10 minutes to downtown.

This city offers world-class accommodations at shockingly low prices. Our rooms, comparable to any in major hotels across the country, were under $100 a night. We aren’t talking Motel 6 here, but recently renovated, ultra-modern, extremely comfortable places to stay.

We spoke to natives and to transplants. They all love their city. It has a ‘feel’ that you only wish for in a New York, Miami, Chicago or LA. Everyone you meet seems to want to be here, want to help, and want to tell you about their lives and the reasons they have no desire to leave.

Reno harkens back to small town America, to the values that we hold dear and miss in the big city. When you visit, take time to talk to the residents. But be careful, Reno grows on you. You may just find it too attractive to leave.

The law of unintended consequences it the only law that cannot be changed or repealed. Like laws of physics, it simply is.

The law of unintended consequences, is often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people, and especially of governments, always have effects that are unanticipated or “unintended.” Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.

The concept of unintended consequences is one of the building blocks of economics. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” the most famous metaphor in social science, is an example of a positive unintended consequence. Smith maintained that each individual, seeking only his own gain, “is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention,” that end being the public interest. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, or the baker, that we expect our dinner,” Smith wrote, “but from regard to their own self interest.”

American sociologist Robert K. Merton. In an influential article titled “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action,” Merton identified five sources of unanticipated consequences. The first two, and the most pervasive, were ignorance and error. Merton labeled the third source the “imperious immediacy of interest.” By that he was referring to instances in which an individual wants the intended consequence of an action so much that he purposefully chooses to ignore any unintended effects. (That type of willful ignorance is very different from true ignorance.) Check out Merton for the other two sources.

Adam Smith may be correct, but the line ‘actions of people, especially of governments, always have effects that are unanticipated or “unintended” seems to stand out.

Seems the Swiss have done a study on micro-mobility. You know, electric bikes and mini scooters that are billed to be so green. The pitch has been that they should be made available on an as-needed basis, that people can rent them when and where they need them. Seems reasonable. 

However, the crafty Swiss have discovered that people who rent them use them to replace walking, pedal powered bikes and public transportation, all of which have a much smaller carbon footprint than micro critters. However, if you actually purchase one, you will use it more judiciously, and not simply to replace walking, peddling, and public transportation. Who knew? An unintended consequence?

There have been folks sniffing around the periphery of EVs and sounding alarms about the non-environmental qualities of the entire process of the building, charging, and disposing of batteries. Is it possible we, in our desire to save the planet, are “purposefully choosing to ignore any unintended effects?” Surely not.

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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